Online Dating First Date by ChelseaAutomatic

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									Feature Article

The Cruel Business of Love

The Chinese internet dating industry has reached critical mass.

On the one hand there are millions of users looking for love online, through
message boards, blogs and hobby-based forums. On the other hand, there is
no shortage of companies looking to capitalize on the so-called “lovesick”
Chinese youth.

However with no proven business model for making money from an industry
that is infamous for having low retention levels, and with investment capital
now starting to seep away, the challenge for online dating companies is how
they can turn love into cold hard cash.

There are more than 137 million internet users currently in China, and around
56 million of these are considered to be using the web in order to look for love
or friendship, according to iResearch, a leading Internet research agency.

Such figures are proving irresistible to companies keen to capitalize on the
market potential of single people with disposable income. The total Chinese
investment in the online “friends and dating” market reached more than 400
million yuan by February 2007.

Most multinationals are also looking to enter this fruitful market, either by
acquisition or partnership, following the leads of Meetic buying YeeYoo.com
and Match buying edodo.

Yet international companies, such as the UK online giant Friends Reunited, will
have to act fast if they wish to carve out a share of the Chinese market. “The
biggest opportunities will pass soon”, said Mark Brooks, of Online Personals
Watch. “Non-Chinese companies should move this year, or they will miss the
Chinese boat.”

Nevertheless, China presents a different set of challenges compared to
Western markets and international companies looking to succeed will need to
localize themselves and take different cultures and consumer habits into
account.

The much-publicized failures of both Ebay and PayPal to break the Chinese
market are classic examples of how hard it can be for foreign companies to be
successful in China by misapplying tried-and-tested business models.
And when it comes to love, studies by iResearch show that the Chinese prefer
free something that is anathema to cash-hunting companies: free online
dating.

From 56 million online users, only 11% were prepared to pay for the privilege.
Even today, the vast majority of Chinese online dating sites have mainly
provided free services.

Another hurdle is the payment process.

Traditionally, in the United States, dating websites have made a profit off
subscriber fees paid online via a credit card. This business model does not
work in China. Credit card transactions account for less than 8 percent of
China's total retail spending, compared to almost 50 percent in the United
States, according to Merchants Bank's statistics. Instead, mobile payments
and online banking are by far the most popular payment options among
Chinese dating site users.

It‟s an obstacle which newcomers to the market, Worldfriends.cn, has tried to
overcome since launching its Chinese site three months ago.

“We are busy adding additional payment channels such as bank transfers and
the post office,” said Dominic Penaloza, CEO and founder of Worldfriends.cn.
“We are also busy informing users about the unique values of our service.”

On line social networking sites are leading the charge ahead of online dating
sites in terms of popularity among users.

“Worldfriends.cn offers users preferences including dating, pen pals and
marriage,” Penaloza said. “Actually most users don‟t select marriage as an
option. We find that dating and pen pals are by far the most popular choice.”

Companies are also taking advantage of advances in technology, especially
VOIP to attract customers. The addition of webcam services to mainstream
dating sites also looks inevitable.

People often put up photos which aren‟t entirely accurate, which can lead to
first dates that can be uncomfortable, according to online dating expert Brooks.
“People will get into the habit of doing first dates online and on their phones
using webcams and phonecams so they know what their suitor really looks
like,” he said.

Yet many sites are slowly starting to figure out how to integrate online and
offline services, added Brooks. “Online dating and friends-making services
offer massive choice but no service, to speak of, whereas traditional
matchmaking services offer great service, but not much choice. The two
worlds will eventually combine to offer a new kind of matchmaking service.”

One thing seems certain – competition in the pursuit of love is fierce. But there
is one sector that has not been tapped into in China yet – the Chinese market
for for “break up” services.

A German businessman recently set up an online “separation agency” – a
service where, for a fee, he will inform unsuspecting partners that their lovers
no longer wish to be with them.

All is fair in love and war.


Cover Photo

A couple of lovers pose for a photo at a recent dating party in Shanghai


Read Out (bold quote in middle of text on page 2)

“People often put up photos which aren‟t entirely accurate, which can lead to
first dates that can be uncomfortable, according to online dating expert Brooks.
“People will get into the habit of doing first dates online and on their phones
using webcams and phonecams so they know what their suitor really looks like

EXPERT MARK BROOKS


SIDE BAR 1

Tangled Up In Choice

Many companies are now looking towards offline events to help raise extra
revenue streams. Here are a few examples:

Speed Dating

At a recent speed-dating event organised by ShanghaiExpat.com, held at the
upmarket Hugo Shanghai, 50 participants paid $88 for the chance to find quick
love. The results speak for themselves – the 50 available places for the event
sold out within days. “This Speed Dating event certainly was a good way of
expanding my networking in Shanghai,” said one participant, Mr. Soo, “This
event was one of the most successful I have ever attended.‟‟

Blind Dating

Lonely hearts are taking on blind dating, also called „dating in the dark‟, where
participants are served in a dark restaurant by waiters wearing night-vision
googles. The idea is that diners can get to know their partner without judging
them on first impressions. And they say love is blind…

Silent Dating

One website has invited young men and women to get to know each other, not
by talking, but by scribbling messages on bits of paper. “Lots of people are not
good at expressing themselves verbally but are good at writing out their
thoughts,” said Li Wenlong, founder of dating website 2BWM.com. "It‟s
particularly good for people who spend a lot of time on the Internet so it really
suits them."

Millionaire Dating

A much-publicized high end dating agency recently held a special match
making event aboard a fancy cruise ship on the Huangpu River, offering single
millionaire men the chance to pair up with young beautiful women.


SIDE BAR 2

Lonely hearts in Shanghai

The world of personal ads can throw up some bizarre requests...

MEN SEEKING WOMEN

“Looking for a lady with beautiful feet who enjoys having them pampered by a
man who can appreciate them.”
Pretty Feet

“Easy going Master of trade seeks open-minded submissive student. Are you
willing to explore your deepest thoughts?”
The Master

“I enjoy cuddling. Lonely male expat in Shanghai looking for Chinese girl to
cuddle. No relationships, no **** required.”
Mister Cuddles
WOMEN SEEKING MEN

“A virgin: clever, good educated, gorgeous, beautiful girl from a high intellectual
family seeks virgin boy – pure white or Shanghainese.”
Miss Virgin

“We are two girls devoted to our job but would like a boyfriend. We don‟t have
time for a whole boyfriend to ourselves, so we share. We can each spare about
5 minutes a day, maybe more on weekends.”
Double Date

“I am 27 years old and wish to find someone who can warm up my feet. I
expect you to be a mature and affectionate white man. Anyone who just wants
to play don‟t bother.”
Cold Feet


Page Two Photo

Young lovers embrace at a street corner in downtown Shanghai

								
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